School Bus Converter's Beginners guide

Beginner’s Guide to Converting a School Bus

This Beginner’s Guide to Converting a School Bus is going to jump right into what to do once you get your school bus. If you are trying to decide if you want to buy and convert a school bus read these 2 posts. Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying a School Bus and 5 Things to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Bus click on each title and it will take you to each post.

You Bought a School Bus to Convert Now What?

I know the first thing you are going to want to do is get busy converting. That is totally understandable! It is exciting to see that bus pull down your driveway and a flood of emotion control your every being because you know you are on the verge of a dream coming true.

However, let me caution you.

Don’t just jump in without a plan.


Seats still in bus


One thing you can do before planning is take out all the seats!

Yeah, not a glamorous activity but a necessity. Once the seats are out you can repair the rust spots, and the floor. (Some people rip up the entire floor to check for rust underneath.)

Then  – STOP! PLAN!

1. When you start planning to convert a school bus, start by answering 3 questions.

The 3 basic questions are:

1. What am I going to use this bus for?

Maybe you are thinking about converting a bus to live in permanently. Or maybe you have decided to live in your bus as you travel around the country full-time. Converted buses are also great for weekend camping or hunting trips. Heck, some people even convert them into party buses.


Tip #1

Make sure you know the purpose of your skoolie before you start construction.Click To Tweet

2. Is the skoolie going to stay connected to shore power or will you be boondocking in your bus?

(Boondocking is dry camping or parking in a spot without amenities.) Unless you count all the amenities at your local Walmart.

The answer to this question will tell you what type of power source you are going to need, how big a fresh water tank you might want to look for, and if you are going to need an alternate source of power. You need to know these things before you start construction.

3. How many people need to sleep on your bus?

Decide if you are willing to fold down a couch into a bed or convert the table area into a bed to be able to have more living space.

We have to sleep 9 on our bus. Therefore, we have to use more room for bunks than someone who only needs to sleep 4.

Of course, you know that this answer is going to directly affect the layout of your bus.

Knowing how many people are going to be sleeping in your bus will also help you determine where to place the, kitchen and bathroom.

Tip #2

Answer these 3 basic questions before you plan your skoolie conversion.Click To Tweet

2. Next, consider the placement of your kitchen and bathroom areas.

Do you want the bathroom on the left or right side of the bus? Is you kitchen area going to take up both sides of the bus or are you going to have the kitchen on one side and a couch and table across from it?

One our first bus, we placed the bathroom on the right across from the kitchen sink. On the second bus, we decided to put the shower on one side and toilet/sink on the other in the master bedroom area.

Knowing where you want the kitchen and bathroom room determines how you need to run your pipes for plumbing. Once you decide where you would like these two areas to be located, go under your bus and make sure there is nothing in the spot where you would need to put a black or grey tank, as well as, the pipes that connect to these tanks.

Tip #3

Look under the bus before deciding where you are going to place the bathroom in your skoolie.Click To Tweet

3. Plan, Plan, Make a Plan

Now you are ready to make your plan or blueprint for your bus design. You can get some graph paper and pencil.

Start by envisioning yourself on your bus. Think about what you want in the back of the bus and move forward. Take into consideration the wheel wells and what you can place over them for maximum use of space.

Which way do you want your bed to face? Do you want a cabinet on each side of the bed or are you going to save space and crawl over your partner to get out of bed? Do you want a desk area? Where are you going to place your TV? Do you want a pantry in the kitchen? You get the idea, Right?

Now, before you let yourself go crazy planning, STOP!

Making plans for skoolie

If you are not living on this bus alone, consult the other person whom you will be sharing you bus.

Jeff has rushed ahead of me time and time again, only to have me come on the bus and say, “UH- Honey, did you think about…? I think you are going to have to take this wall out because I need….” Let’s just say, this usually doesn’t end with both of us kissing and hugging.

Tip #4

When planning your skoolie design, consult your spouse before final plans are made.Click To Tweet

4. Look at your circumstances, and decide when you would like your school bus conversion to be complete.

Is your lease expiring soon, and you will be needing a place to live or resign the lease? Are you wanting to follow a dream of full-time traveling this year or a few years from now? Do you need to sell your house and downsize to a tiny house?

The answers to these questions are going to help you plan how fast you need to complete your skoolie.

The first bus we converted was mostly completed within 3 months because we wanted to travel and be involved in campground ministry when our last 4 children were adopted. Therefore, we worked faster and had to purchase items without a discount. We knew our second bus, didn’t need to be ready for 10 months. So, we took our time converting this bus and looked for used items and discounted lumber.

What are your circumstances and when would you like your bus completed?

Once your skoolie is complete there will be things you want to redo, add or modify.Click To Tweet

5. Now, think about where you will be traveling or living in your skoolie.

Are you going to be in extreme heat? Do you want to see Yellowstone National Park in the winter? If so, you need to prepare for this type of weather.

On our first bus, we didn’t insulate the walls or floor. We found ourselves in Texas freezing and in  New Mexico burning up. We had a difficult time keeping the bus at a comfortable temperature in extreme weather. Therefore, our second bus was well insulated!!

Are you going to insulate your bus? How many A/C units do you need? Do you need rooftop units with a heat strip or are you going to use space heater or a wood stove?

The answers to the questions will help you when you begin converting your bus and deciding on a budget.

6. Finally, figure out your electrical  system.

One more thing to consider, is how many outlets and light switches are you going to need?

Jeff always tells me that I put in way too many outlets. But let me tell you, we have kids! They need electronics to keep them busy in a small space on a rainy day!! I need OUTLETS!!

Think about where you want to put your microwave, your coffee pot, or your juicer. Are you going to have a washer/dryer? Where do you want your lights placed thus where will your switches need to be located? Write these on your plan. You can thank me later!

The answers to these questions will save you from tearing out a wall you just put up, help you save money on wire, and know how many breakers you will need in your breaker panel/converter.

Now that you have thought about and answered these questions, decided on when you want your bus completed, figured out where you will be traveling/living in your bus and written a skoolie plan, you are ready to get to work.

If you are interested in reading more check out the next part in this series How to Make a School Bus a Home Part 1.

If Jeff or I can answer any of your questions just email us or find us on our Facebook Page Discoveringusbus.

We want to get you on the road!

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  1. Gaylene Waihi February 20, 2016 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    Hi we have just bought a bus I New Zealand where it can either be very cold and in summer very warm. My husband and I are wondering because of condensation is it better to cover some of the windows as we will be putting in a fire. First time ever doing something like this. Your help is much appreciated. Thanks Gaylene and Tony.

    • discoveringus February 20, 2016 at 9:56 pm - Reply

      Hi Gaylene and Tony, Congratulations on your new bus. Converting a school bus is an exciting adventure. About your question concerning condensation, in my opinion (Keep in mind everyone has one. LOL), YES. I would cover several of the windows. However, before covering them be sure to insulate. You can also remove the rubber from the floor, the plywood underneath, repair any rust and insulate the floor before laying down the new floor. Think about using a moisture barrier between the window/floor and insulation. I hope these tips help you as you are starting your school bus conversion.

  2. David March 24, 2016 at 1:13 pm - Reply


  3. Sami June 16, 2016 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Do you need a special license to drive the bus?

    • discoveringus June 17, 2016 at 3:23 pm - Reply

      Sami, You do not need a CDL license to drive the bus once converted. When converted you will get it titled as a motorhome.

  4. Lejoy September 4, 2016 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    Hi my name is Lejoy’ I have been helping my Daughter and her boyfriend convert there school buss. We have made some mess up … Some with the wirering and have not done the pluming. Are the pro pain tanks.. We kinda did more in side like the kitchen , and now framing in the bathroom, need some help where to put the propane . And the frig is electrisaty .we made a a mustake on the frig. It’s not propane. Didn’t think about where to put the furnace.. They wanted a wood burning stove for heat….and the water heater.. We put the floor down and the kitchen counter in and one cabinet where the sink will be, and we need more wirering . Can you help me an any way.. The guy we had working on it. Kinda messed up a few of these thing that I am telling you.. Know I know that all this schould have been done first. Thanks Lejoy

    • discoveringus September 5, 2016 at 1:35 am - Reply

      Hi Lejoy, Oh, my! I hear your frustration. So sorry to hear a guy messed things up for you all! Do you have the walls up in the bus? If not, this sounds like an easy fix. Well, for Jeff anyway. 🙂 If so, it can still be done but may need to tear out some walls and replace them. Here is our email. Send me an email and I will see how we (again – Jeff) might be able to help you. Concerning the refrigerator, we prefer electric. It will save you money when parked in a state park or campground because you can use their power and not waste money on propane. You can hook it to the generator when you are boondocking. So, you didn’t make a mistake on the frig in my opinion. Email me and let’s see what we can do to get this bus dream on the road.

  5. Lejoy September 5, 2016 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks …. Yes the wall are up but I think they can come of kinda easy . I will email you and a pic of what we have done…I am trying to find a plumber that can come out and help tell us what to do on that.. Thanks Lejoy.

    • discoveringus September 5, 2016 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      I will be get back with you as soon as I can once I get your email.

    • Jeff Clark December 20, 2016 at 4:15 am - Reply


      I’m on a great journey, that leads me to transform a forty foot transit bus into my personal traveling art studio (my home). I was wondering what high lights should I look for when considering my purchase transmission,etc.? My intention is to install an insulated roof water tank, multiple battery units underneath, and an under carriage multiple propane unit for on demand hot water and cooking. I’m so enthused and looking forward to your response, I need all the direction I can I get. Thank you So Much!!!
      Jeff Clark recently posted…Do You Have a Questions About the Step by Step Conversion Course?My Profile

  6. smilinbob October 23, 2016 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Hi, I am a school bus driver in south Louisiana and I think this is a wonderful idea and I am now on the list for my parish to purchase my first bus. My daughter and I are going to convert it as a family project and the only thing we have figure out completely is the theme. Since she is now a huge fan of the “walking dead” show (funny a 9 year old would LOVE zombie shows) we are going to make the “Zombie Evac” bus. Mostly a fun camper when I am home from work. Do yall still offer advice and/or suggestions? I would love to hear some once I get started.

    • discoveringus October 23, 2016 at 7:12 pm - Reply


      A “Zombie Evac” bus is totally AWESOME!! It is great that you are going to convert it with your daughter. Y’all will have memories to last a lifetime ones converting the bus and camping in it. Yes, we still offer consultation services. Also, we are preparing to launch a Course on How-to Convert a Bus into a camper/home on wheels. If you sign-up for our email list, you will be notified when the course is ready. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

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